Blog Tour Book Review: A CLOCKWORK RIVER by J. S. Emery

I received a review copy from the publisher as part of the blog tour in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Title in white on navy with gold clockwork and circle
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 3.5 stars
Series: standalone


Book cover for A CLOCKWORK RIVER: title in black on navy with gold decorations

Lower Rhumbsford is a city far removed from its glory days. On the banks of the great river Rhumb, its founding fathers channelled the river’s mighty flow into a subterranean labyrinth of pipes, valves and sluices, a feat of hydraulic prowess that would come to power an empire. But a thousand years have passed since then, and something is wrong. The pipes are leaking, the valves stuck, the sluices silted. The erstwhile mighty Rhumb is sluggish and about to freeze over for the first time in memory.

In a once fashionable quarter of the once great city, in the once grand ancestral home of a family once wealthy and well-known, live the last descendants of the city’s most distinguished engineer, siblings Samuel and Briony Locke.

Having abandoned his programme in hydraulic engineering, Samuel Locke tends to his vast lock collection, while his sister Briony distracts herself from the prospect of marriage to a rich old man with her alchemical experiments. One night Sam leaves the house carrying five of his most precious locks and doesn’t come back…

As she searches for her brother, Bryony will be drawn into a web of ancestral secrets and imperial intrigues as a ruthless new power arises. If brother and sister are to be reunited, they will need the help of a tight-lipped house spirit, a convict gang, a club of antiques enthusiasts, a tribe of troglodytes, the Ladies Whist Club, the deep state, a traveling theatrical troupe and a lovesick mouse.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


THE CLOCKWORK RIVER is set in such a fun world, which was the big selling point for me. Hydropunk, where a river is the source of power, rather than steam. But the river is dying, and everyone has their own theories on how to solve it. Unbeknownst to them, and quite by accident, at the heart of this squabbling are Sam and Briony Locke, who are going to find themselves tangled up with some very unscrupulous people…

It is a very big book – the graphic below for the first few days of the tour doesn’t do enough justice to just how thick this book it. Double the apparent thickness and you have an idea!

The reason it’s quite this big is because the narrative style is not a concise one. It’s told by a narrator, who sometimes does go on a tangent (ending occasionally with a “I forget what I was talking about”, and yes, Mr Narrator, I had also forgotten what the point was at the end.)

If you want a book where the story is in tight focus and it’s easy to follow what’s going on, then this is not a book for you. This is a book where the narrative style comes before plot, which took me a very long time to get used to, and I did get lost a few times in the many jumps and side-trips.

There are a dozen characters the book follows, meandering around them and the plot. They are very eccentric characters, to match the very eccentric world. But most of the character quirks are treated as completely normal – until a girl wants to show her ankles, and then a mother who will happily seduce footmen goes hysterical. This slightly absurdist feel helps merge the plot, world, and characters together – helped along further by the narrator’s fourth-wall breaks and commentary.

It’s an interesting debut, setting up a very distinctive style that should be interesting to watch develop over the coming years.

Blog Tour Graphic: names of participating bloggers of week 1 in white on blue next to image of book

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